Monday, April 5, 2010

NASA to receive billions for studying earth, climate

Jon Hamilton on NPR: NASA, the agency known for exploring space, will be spending a lot more time studying Earth in the next few years. The Obama administration has proposed a budget for NASA that includes billions of dollars for satellites and other tools to help scientists investigate Earth-bound problems, especially climate change.

That represents a major turnaround for NASA's Earth Science Division, which had been allowed to languish during much of the 1990s. Back then, the division had so little money it wasn't able to replace aging satellites that monitor things such as polar ice, coastal wetlands, ocean temperatures and chemicals in the atmosphere. But things have changed dramatically since the arrival of the Obama administration, says Edward Weiler, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

"This administration has a clear priority for science in general and Earth science in specific," he says. And now the White House has unveiled plans to give NASA's Earth science programs $2.4 billion in new money over the next five years. That's an increase of more than 60 percent.

Much of the new money will be spent trying to reinvigorate efforts to determine how fast the Earth's climate is changing, Weiler says. "We've got to measure how fast the ice is being depleted, how fast carbon dioxide is being added to the atmosphere as opposed to being taken out of it," he says.

…."In order to figure out where it's going, how it's being exchanged between the atmosphere and the ocean, and the atmosphere and the land, you have to make a whole variety of measurements," Freilich says. The extra funding will help scientists get those measurements. One chunk is paying for a new Orbiting Carbon Observatory to replace the original, which crashed into the ocean last year just after it was launched…..

Another attempt will be made to launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (artist's conception from NASA)

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